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Mechanisms of action of fascial plane blocks: a narrative review


Background Fascial plane blocks (FPBs) target the space between two fasciae, rather than discrete peripheral nerves. Despite their popularity, their mechanisms of action remain controversial, particularly for erector spinae plane and quadratus lumborum blocks.

Objectives This narrative review describes the scientific evidence underpinning proposed mechanisms of action, highlights existing knowledge gaps, and discusses implications for clinical practice and research.

Findings There are currently two plausible mechanisms of analgesia. The first is a local effect on nociceptors and neurons within the plane itself or within adjacent muscle and tissue compartments. Dispersion of local anesthetic occurs through bulk flow and diffusion, and the resulting conduction block is dictated by the mass of local anesthetic reaching these targets. The extent of spread, analgesia, and cutaneous sensory loss is variable and imperfectly correlated. Explanations include anatomical variation, factors governing fluid dispersion, and local anesthetic pharmacodynamics. The second is vascular absorption of local anesthetic and a systemic analgesic effect at distant sites. Direct evidence is presently lacking but preliminary data indicate that FPBs can produce transient elevations in plasma concentrations similar to intravenous lidocaine infusion. The relative contributions of these local and systemic effects remain uncertain.

Conclusion Our current understanding of FPB mechanisms supports their demonstrated analgesic efficacy, but also highlights the unpredictability and variability that result from myriad factors at play. Potential strategies to improve efficacy include accurate deposition close to targets of interest, injections of sufficient volume to encourage physical spread by bulk flow, and manipulation of concentration to promote diffusion.

  • regional anesthesia
  • pain
  • postoperative
  • anesthesia
  • local
  • pharmacology
  • analgesia

Data availability statement

Data sharing not applicable as no data sets generated and/or analyzed for this study.

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